Teaching A 'Lesson' on Aircraft Performance


December 9, 2005


The week before was tough.  I managed to finally catch a nuisance cold.  I tried to make good use of the time and study when I felt up to it. 

My morning started with me going to my surgeon for an annual checkup for a male breast exam of all things because of my surgery for male breast cancer May 2004 (I described it in the middle of my Instrument Rating training 'diary' if you're interested: Momentary Delay In Instrument Training ).

All worked as suspected... I was doing fine with nothing to worry about.  So, I'm due for my next exam in a year which promises to be just as uneventful (still feels kinda 'spooky' walking into that office recalling the memory of the news for the first time).  All is well,, as I tell friends who keep tabs on my status; I smile and tell them that "all is well and nothing new is falling-off!" <G>

After my exam (a couple of hours later) I had the ground session with my instructor scheduled to 'teach' him about aircraft performance - off to San Jose, CA I drove! :)

Those of you that may know are well-aware I was really 'punishing' myself over concern about getting all the right information in the right proportion with the proper scope into my presentation.  I toiled and fraught over the details until a day or so before I was to give the presentation an 'epiphany' washed over me <g>.  I was making this process into something big, complex and involved when all I was really being asked to do was just explain some of the basic aspects of aircraft performance to someone who wanted to know about it.  I've always liked helping people figure stuff out and that is all I really needed to do.

I know the latter may seem like a realization that should have seemed 'obvious'; but I guess I was just getting so intimidated by the notion of some sort of 'official teacher' role I was to fulfill that I overlooked what was a much simpler task:  I was a human being with some knowledge that a fellow human being was trying to understand.  I've been explaining things all of my life (in my I.T. work I've had to describe some of the most seemingly mundane aspects of computers and networks to clients all the way up to the most complex concepts).  I've taught music (theory, guitar and basic piano) in college to make pocket money to pay for dates back in my college dorm days.   So, I had done this 'teaching', already.  I suddenly felt myself relax, recognizing that I would do fine, because I understood the concepts I was to teach and in my own learning of them had learned various approaches that helped me assimilate the knowledge.

Suddenly, I didn't feel the (self-imposed) 'ominous' weight of providing the instruction.  I was going to have a 'talk' with someone to help them learn more about a subject and in the process I'd be getting to share something that I've loved all my life; flying.  How cool is that!  I wasn't expected to be some scholarly professor with a tightly-pressed suit, stepping up to some chalkboard to present a lecture in some very staid manner.  Not at all; I was just helping someone understand something that I've come to learn and all I needed for that was a clear idea of what I wanted to share and a good ear to make sure my student was grasping what I was communicating.  That was all I needed to teach! :)

The session went well, not without a hitch, but no major 'bumps'.  My CFI seemed very pleased that at one point after discussing the performance charts in the Cessna 172 POH that I was using as an example, that I went on to stress that these figures represented values that were achieved with a spanking-brand-new aircraft with a 'test pilot' on-board; whose sole duty was to produce the best possible results for his employer (the aircraft manufacturer).

I fielded most of my student's questions quite well (IMHO) although I did get a little out of step when I was talking about why humidity affects aircraft performance (that is after a discussion on how temperature and altitude affect aircraft).  Rather than beginning with the explanation that water vapor molecules displace the air molecules, somewhat; creating spaces between the air molecules making the air less dense with air molecules - I first started in on how molecular water was 'lighter' than molecular air.  The original reason I had planned to even get into that aspect of the discussion was that I (thought) it would help address any thoughts the student may have about molecules of water being 'heavier' than molecules of air.  A better way of doing it (my CFI later pointed out to me) was to present the fact that the presence of water vapor takes up some space that would have been occupied my air molecules - effectively making the air less dense and THEN if the student asked the question; "Doesn't water weigh more than air?",, go on with the discussion about molecular water versus molecules of air.

Wasn't the worst thing I could have done but I did see how I might be needlessly complicating things for the student.

For the most part I felt REALLY good about my presentation; wasn't perfect, but then again the whole purpose of these presentations is for me to learn and I'm bound to make some mistakes along  the way.

Well, next Tuesday I 'teach' an in-flight session to my 'student' (played as always by my ever intrepid CFII <g>.  It will consist of teaching a short-field takeoff and landing to a primary student followed by teaching some of the Commercial Maneuvers to a Commercial student.  Then later that week I'll teach a ground session on airspace, charts and airport signage, etc.

My work is cut out for me, but at least now with my 'revelation' I can approach it with less trepidation! :)

Good Flights!

Below graphic designed by: Jeff Bucchino,
"The Wizard of Draws" (copyright owner) http://www.wizardofdraws.com

Click PilotGuy to return to previous screen